Afrocity is going to take out her handy dusty ol’ urban race card concerning the Seattle police officer who punched the 17 year old woman over a jaywalking offense.
(Places race card on the table, dust bunnies fall everywhere)
Understanding the often adversarial relationship between blacks and law enforcement is really something that you really have to be of color to understand. Many African Americans do not trust the police- even when you are a law abiding citizen like myself. My past experiences with the men and women in blue have been 99% horrible and traumatizing. There are some professional figures in America that we are just expected and taught to trust without question…Doctors, clergymen, teachers, firemen and policemen. Maybe part of this is due in part to how members of these professions were portrayed in cinema and media during the mid 20th Century.
Beaver Cleaver would get lost in the store and some nice cop swinging a billy club, chomping on a Red Delicious Apple that he took from the neighborhood fruit vendor, would sport a soft but commanding Irish accent. Think Sean Connery’s character in The Untouchables. Think little old woman wearing a floral print duster from Kmart needing to get her tabby cat “Tobias” down from a tree.
The pictures that cinema rendered of policemen may have had some basis in fact. The 1950’s are very different in terms of crime levels from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. I am not dismissing the law enforcement of yesteryear as bumbling keystone cops. Of course there were murders and bank robberies. Indeed the guys from Dragnet were dealing with some serious issues. Bad things did happen in pre-1960’s America and there were bad cops but television and movies were less likely to challenge the societal expectations of “Officer Friendly”. When Officer Friendly dealt with a jaywalker it normally did not turn out like this:
I would not characterize the Seattle policeman as “Officer Friendly” . While I believe that the teenage girl was wrong for resisting an officer’s detainment, after viewing the video numerous times, I do not see any reason as to why she should have been punched in the face. Let’s remind ourselves that the post-Rodney King Era face punching cop hails from present day Seattle. Seattle is a city in every sense of the word. A routine distress call will involve mush more than old duster lady’s cat. Here lies the difference between what a cop would and would not do in certain situations.
Once the 1970’s descend upon us, enter the “urban cop” . Serpico, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Baretta. The world gets ugly and so do cops. Cities become overcrowded with people and crime. You have dirty cops, overworked cops, cops on the edge. Yes there are mentally unstable cops and cops who just cannot hack it. Being a policeman in a large urban area like Chicago, New York, or Seattle is not an easy job. You develop expectations for any given beat. This is where race comes into play. Let me go back to Officer Friendly for a moment. Stay with me. I grew up in Chicago. I am admitting openly here on my blog that I do not trust policemen. The way I have seen blacks, Hispanics, hippies, women and children treated by the Chicago Police in my forty years has been enough to make Afrocity run far, far, in the opposite direction when she sees that Chicago sky blue and white patrol car.
Have I ever done drugs? No. Committed armed robbery? Nope. But I have called on the policeman when I have been harassed or attacked and their response was to treat me like a criminal. Why? Because I was African American and in an high-crime urban ghetto. The cop shows up with an attitude. He shows up thinking the worst of you and in my opinion this is where trust ends for me. Officer Friendly is cloistered in Oak Park, Illinois. Beautiful green suburban Oak Park. Where during all a cop has to worry about was rain ruining the Easter egg roll competition at Rehm Park or the occasional rape of a female jogger at 5am.
I briefly lived in Oak Park as a child. There was a situation once where my bicycle was stolen. It took a special kind of humility to admit to myself that I was an idiot for not having locked the pink chunk of Huffy metal up while I went into the local drugstore for a candy bar. My friend went to the pay phone to dial 911.
“What are you doing???!!!!” I asked.
“Calling the police! We have to report it stolen,” she answered as if I was a dummy. Her blond hair and blue eyes were a contrast to my so badly needed to be relaxed nappy hair and brown eyes. This girl was a born and bred suburban child. I was a transplant from the West Side of Chicago. Cops don’t help us. If he finds my bike, more than likely he will keep it and give it to his niece as a Quinceanera present. Against my instincts, I sat and waited for the policeman. This will take a while, I thought to myself. Maybe 30 minutes, an hour…tomorrow.
It did not take long at all. No sooner than I could say ” Betty’s got a blue bonnet”, did the orange and white Oak Park Police car pull up to the curb.
With increasing heart rate, I imagined what would happen next. He would probably say something along the lines of “Okay girl is this even your bike? Did you steal it from someone else? Did you get it during the 1968 looting on Madison Avenue?
I was wrong.
“Someone missing a bicycle huh?” asked the Oak Park police in a calming voice. “Who lost a bike?”
My friend pointed to me. I went up to the policeman wringing my hands. He asked me what happened. I explained that we were in the drugstore buying candy. I laid the bike down without locking it because I thought I would be just a minute but we started looking at nail polish and magazines. “And nobody steals in Oak Park like in Chicago,” I declared during my statement.
The officer shook his head, “Oh yes they do and you should always secure your bicycle no matter how long you will be. “
I put my head down as the officer wrote on his pad. The cop car began drawing a crowd of kids licking on ice cream cones. This was surreal. Where was the crazy welfare mom yelling about her shot son? Where was unplugged fire hydrant with kids swimming in the black waters of the street while officers inspected a dead body left in the trunk of a Cadillac? And why isn’t this officer yelling at me? Golly gee this is extraordinary. It is freaking “Officer Friendly”. Like the talking M&M’s he does exist!
“Was your bike registered with the Oak Park Police Department?” asked the nice cop.
I shook my head. You could see the look of disappointment on his face as he shook his head back at me. “Always register your bikes with the police,” he lectured. “It makes it easier for us if it gets stolen…Now I have to talk to your mom about the serial numbers.”
“Move along kids,” the cop instructed. He looked at one little boy eating a slice of white bread. “You’re gonna get fat off that bread kid.”
I got in the police car with him and he drove me home. Mother must have been on Afrocity is in trouble radar because she bolted from our apartment building as I exited the car.
“Oh no, she didn’t do anything!” she yelling running up and grabbing me. “Why is she in the police car-“
“Ma’am your daughter’s bicycle was stolen today and we need some information on the make and model, serial numbers…She does not know anything besides it color- hot pink.”
My mother was more self-conscious and afraid of police than I was. They were no friend of hers after her experience during the 1968 riots. They were no friend of her son’s either. Mother turned her lip up. “Her bike was not stolen.”
I did a double take. What?
She continued, “I saw her bicycle laying by the light post unlocked. I told her not to do it because it would be stolen. O knew she was in that store buying candy or testing make up – whatever she does. I took it home to teach her a lesson.”
Relief was a wonderful feeling. “You mean you have it?” I began jumping up and down.
“Yes it is in the house,” she motioned with her head towards our apartment building. “I did not expect her to call the cops. Why did you do that?”
“Sue made me.” I answered “It is what they do here when something happens.”
The policeman interrupted, “Your daughter did the right thing. Guess you taught her a lesson though.” He looked down at me. “What is the lesson?”
I shrugged my shoulders “Not to leave my bike unlocked.”
“And????” he asked.
There was a long pause. “I don’t know”
He playfully tapped me on the head with his pad- not a billy club or the back of his hand. “REGISTER YOUR BIKE”
“Okay you be good now and lock that bike” Officer Friendly said getting in the patrol car.
“I told you to never call the police,” Mother scolded. “If someone is bothering you just start screaming in the streets…but for something like a bike or if you see something happening to someone else just stay away from them.”
“But he was nicer than the Chicago–“
“Yes because you are in a suburb with white people that he respects. You think he would have been so nice if we were back in Chicago? He would not have given a damn about your bike or you. Could have took it himself.”
During dinner, I asked mother if I could register my bike. She flatly said: “No, we are not going into any police station unless someone drags us into one.”
Unjustifiably so? No.
The more interesting question we must ask ourselves about the Seattle punch drunk urban cop is let’s suppose he was in La Jolla, CA and someone jaywalked. Perhaps a well known doctor’s wife who had one too many martinis during the bake sale committee luncheon.
We all know how stressful those can be.
The officer stops her and she gets ugly and loud- hitting him with her Kate Spade wicker handbag. If that doctor’s wife was punched in the face by the cop–all litigation hell would break lose. One has the impression that if Mr. Seattle Cop was in a nice suburban enclave that he would not have punched at all. I have seen enough white boy frat party raids to know this.
I have seen cops treat peace disturbing white yuppies far differently than blacks. Usually on the more physical roughness deficit side. Usually when the white law breaker was being far more aggressive towards the cop. To be clear I am talking about white, black, Latino cops. ALL COPS in my opinion are more aggressive towards citizens in certain urban areas. I have seen policemen detain shabbily dressed people when they were the ones who were attacked by the man in the three piece suit.
Policemen have biases just like every normal human being. There is no reason for a man to be shot over 40 times by the New York Police or for a 17 year old teenager to be punched in the face for a jaywalking violation. Force and power are gifts bestowed upon law enforcement that should be executed with a keen sense of judgment and without prejudice.
We will hear more about the Seattle case I am sure but in the meantime. I am on her side. The crazy cop used unreasonable force. He needs a Training Day with Denzel Washington’s Oscar winning character “Alonzo”.
I call it how I see it. It has nothing to do with being conservative or liberal.
Autographed Letter Signed,